Monday, July 30, 2012

Review: Pigeon Pie Mystery by Julia Stuart

Quirky, idiosyncratic, individual, peculiar, unusual, odd, strange, eccentric, unpredictable, distinctive, unconventional, weird, comical, bizarre, outlandish, wacky.  And that only describes the cast of characters.  Julia Stuart is a comic genius.  She gives us a list of characters so radically different and strange, and bizarre, and etc., etc., etc., that you have to plan an extra half hour just to get control of the tears of laughter rolling down your cheeks.

But intertwined with the personalities, Stuart gives us a pleasant, cozy, but well-crafted mystery.  It can't actually be described as a murder mystery, because the question is actually whether or not the deceased was murdered.  Once that part is decided, the search must shift to who-dunnit?  Did the Doctor who signed the death certificate make a mistake?  Is the homeopath (whom many regard as a quack) able to shed any light on the subject?  Did the good General (IS he a "good" General?) really die from ingesting a Pigeon Pie? 

The setting - Hampton Court Palace in London, where this looney tune roster of "Grace and Favor" residents enjoy rent free living courtesty of Her Majesty the Queen (in this case and setting, the ruler is Victoria)--is especially interesting in view of the current Olympic games being played there, with the palace serving as the staging area for the final journey of the Torch last week.  The sub-plot revolving around the authenticity and existence of ghosts in the residences, adds even more to the fun.

Not only do we get a good dose of wonderful characters, and a mind tickling mystery, we get some history, some culture, and a wonderful view of the vast British empire, it's class structure, and its polyglot population.  A thoroughly enjoyable read.

The ending is especially delightful as Stuart seems to be leaving an opening for a series.  Princess Alexandrina as a private detective?  I'd love to see that happen.  There is certainly enough here in setting, characters and opportunities for nefarious activity to be able to support several more in a series.

Don't forget to enter the contest (click here for the entry form) to win one of two copies offered by Doubleday. Also, I'm changing the deadline to August 12, since I'll be off the internet until then.  It's a wonderful summer afternoon read, or a great book to jump-start a return from a reading funk, or a pick-me-up for someone under the weather.  It's absolutely delicious.  Don't miss it.

Author: Julia Stuart
Publisher-Format: Doubleday, ARC, 330 pages
Year of publication: 2012
Subject: suspicous death and who's responsible
Setting: Hampton Court Palace, London, 1898
Genre: mystery, amateur sleuth
Source: ARC from the publisher.

Many thanks to Doubleday books for providing a review copy.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday Salon - July 29 Dreaming of the Beach

Sundays are supposed to be days of rest.  My rest today consists of trying to get a handle on the upcoming vacation:  making sure the lists are complete so that we can pack everything, make sure the house and cat sitters are set up, the car is tuned up, etc etc etc etc.  We're really looking forward to spending a quality week at the beach, visiting in small increments with parts of my huge Baltimore family.

Of course, both of us have to make some difficult decisions about what to take, what to leave behind.  How much can we expect to get done?  Why should we worry about getting ANYTHING done?  So, since books play such a huge part in our lives, we're both spending some time this weekend deciding what to take and what to leave behind.

We have much to be thankful for.  Both of us enjoy audio books, and we both often read or listen to the same books.  So we have identified a couple we can listen to during our 10-12 hours on the road (each way).  That's basically two books  right there.  We have loaded up our NOOKs, our Kindle, and our MP3s with ebooks -both print and audio.  I'm writing several reviews to post while I'm gone, we're eating up the dribs and drabs from the refrigerator, doing the laundry, and getting suitcases from the attic.

I've even identified some books that I have (most from NetGalley) with review deadlines coming up in the next month or so.  I'm going to try to get a couple of them done.  I do plan however to spend a lot of time working on my cross-stitched Blue Heron.  If you remember I started this one over 2 years ago (see Sunday Salon May 10,2010)  and as you can see here I haven't even managed to complete 1/4 of it.  I think I'd better get out the audio books and get going.

All in all, I've got 13 on the NOOK that I really want to read, 4 print books I'll probably drag along, and another 15-20 loaded up in audio. That should keep me busy.  Besides, there's the Olympics, scrabble, rummikub, monopoly, fishing, shell collecting, shopping, angry birds and yahtzee to keep us occupied.

Do you want to make a bet that when we get within sniffing distance of a real bookstore, we'll be unable to resist?  I'll let you know when I get back online in a couple weeks.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Review: The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection

Another wonderfully gentle and entertaining episode in the lives of Mma Precious Ramotswe, Mma Grace Makutsi, Mma Silvia Potokwane, Phuti Radiphuti, and the rest of the colorful, gracious and sometimes nefarious characters we've come to know and love in this series about life in Botswana.

Those of you familiar with the series may think there's nothing new that can possibly to added to the adventures of the employees of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and their families, but the appearance of the hero of the ladies' endeavors, Clovis Anderson himself (author of the bible of private detection) and three separate problems makes this one a fresh and exciting read.  Grace and Phuti are building a house, Mma Potkwane is trying to keep from being fired as director of the orphans' home, and Mma Ramotswe is trying to prove that one of Mr. J.L.B. Matekone's workers does not deserve to be in jail.  With Mr. Anderson's help, they are able to bring everything to a suitable Botswana conclusion.

These are well-written, classically crafted stories.  The mysteries are almost an afterthought.  McCall-Smith gives us characters who are so human, so devoted to goodness that they could become saccharine.  Instead, the author allows them to make mistakes, become depressed and discouraged, and exhibit some pompous behavior that could be hurtful to others.  Through it all, their dedication to maintaining the "Botswana way of life" brings us not just a good ending, but a feeling of wanting more.  If you haven't yet been to the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, grab one of these tranquil tellings of stimulating mystery stories and settle back for a feel good read.

Author:  Alexander McCall Smith
Publisher-Format: Pantheon (2012), e-book, 204 pages
Subject: private detection
Setting: Botswana Africa
Series: No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency #13
Genre: cozy mystery - private detectives
Source: public library download

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Giveaway: Pigeon Pie Mystery by Julia Stuart

I'm almost finished this one, and I'll be posting a review early next week, but in the meantime, I can't wait to offer you a chance to win a copy.  It's an absolute hoot!!  I'm having so much fun, I wish I weren't so busy because I'd really like to finish it.  It's got everything:  a cast of characters that you'll fall in love with,  a terrific setting (particularly timely in view of the Olympic activities beginning this weekend) and a marvelous plot.  Thanks to Joe Gallagher of Doubleday, we have two copies to give away to lucky US readers.

Here's the story: When Indian Princess Alexandrina is left penniless by the sudden death of her father, the Maharaja of Brindor, Queen Victoria grants her, along with her faithful servant Pooki,  a grace-and-favor home in Hampton Court Palace. Aside from ghost sightings, Hampton Court doesn't seem so bad. The princess is soon befriended by three eccentric widows who invite her to a picnic with all the palace's inhabitants, for which Pooki bakes a pigeon pie. But when General-Major Bagshot dies after eating said pie, and the coroner finds traces of arsenic in his body, Pooki becomes the #1 suspect in a murder investigation.

Princess Alexandrina isn't about to let Pooki hang. She begins an investigation of her own, and discovers that Hampton Court isn't such a safe place to live after all. With her trademark wit and charm, Julia Stuart introduces us to an outstanding cast of lovable oddballs as she guides us through the many delightful twists and turns in this fun and quirky murder mystery.
To enter, just leave a comment AND fill out the form.
No PO Boxes, anyone in the US with a street address can enter.

Publication date is scheduled for August 7th, so we'll make that the deadline for entries.  Then you won't have to wait too long to get your copy when you win.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A new series: Jimm Juree

I definitely enjoyed Colin Cotterill's first series, the Dr. Siri Paiboun mysteries, so I was prepared to be as delighted by this new protagonist Jimm Juree, a crime reporter wannabe, whose mother relocates the family from a big city to the boondocks.  My hopes may have been set too high.

Cotterill gives us a quirky cast of characters: Grandpa, a retired traffic cop; Siss, the transgendered beauty queen who used to be her brother, and who now runs a dubious online company; a rather addled mother who tries to relocate the entire family from a bustling city to a rural nowhere because there's a nice place to live; and a body-building baby brother who tries in vain to keep Jimm on the moral high road. I'm going to have to reserve judgement on them ...they just didn't do enough for me (except for Grandpa) to make me jump for joy and say "WOW- he's done it again!"  There is certainly plenty of room to develop this new group of loonies.  The setting, modern day Thailand, also needs much more filling out.

Cotterill delights us with quotes from George W. Bush as openers for each chapter, beginning with
Families is where our nation finds hope.  Where wings take dream
 George W Bush LaCrosse Wisc 10/18/2000
 And ending with
Rarely is the question asked: "Is our children learning?"  
George W Bush  Florence SC 2/1/2000
At first we scratch our head, trying to figure out what they have to do with anything.  Later we are given the explanation of why "W" is featured, but I won't spoil it for you.  It isn't until the beginning of Chapter 8 that we get some inkling about the title of the book:
"Free societies are hopeful societies. And free societies will be allies against these hateful few who have no conscience, who kill at the whim of a hat."
George W. Bush Washington DC, 17 September 2004
There are three crimes Jimm is trying to report on (solve?)--two skeletons found buried in a VW van, a dead dog (poisoned? by whom?) and a brutally murdered monk.   These three stories were quite disjointed, and I kept wondering if they were related, if they were crimes at all, and what they had to do with the story at any given time.  At least there is a really fun "fairy" police officer who helps Jimm sort things out.

I just received the second in this series as an audio to review from the publisher.  Based on Cotterill's reputation, and my previous enjoyment of his stories, I'm willing to give this series room to grow, but I'm not going to go much past #2 unless I can get a better feel for this cast of characters, more Thai culture and history, and a less disjointed plot. I'm crossing my fingers and hoping for the best, so that maybe, as GWB says at the beginning of Chapter 13
They misunderestimated me.
 George W Bush Bentonville AK 11/6/2000

Author: Colin Cotterill
Publisher-Format: Minotaur Books (2011), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 384 pages
Subject: Murder, crime reporting
Setting: Southern Thailand
Series: Jimm Juree
Genre: murder mystery, investigative reporter
Source: public library

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mini-Review: That Woman by Anne Sebba

Author: Anne Sebba
Publisher-Format: Orion Publishing Group (2012), Paperback, 384 pages
Subject: Life of Wallis Warfield Simpson
Setting: various
Genre: biography
Source: public library

Wallis Warfield (better known as the Duchess of Windsor) hailed from Baltimore, my home town.  World famous as the twice divorced woman who captured the heart of the King of England, she is a person whose life has never made much sense to me, and who is often held up to much scorn and criticism.  Of course every young girl who hears the story about a King giving up his throne to marry "the woman I love" at first must think this is a romantic fairy tale. It isn't.  It's a tragedy.

In this latest biography of the Duchess, Anne Sebba tries to present both The Duke (ex-king Edward ) and his Duchess as two persons whose personality disorders (nowhere documented) drove them to act as they did and  meant that they were perfect for each other.  The author's positing of strange sexual dysfunctions for both of them adds nothing to the already well-known tale, and serves only to make the story more unbelievable.  She succeeds only in reinforcing my perception that they were each selfish, infantile, and insecure to a degree that they could never have functioned as adults in the tumultuous world in which they lived.   I don't think anything new has been added to the body of knowledge about these two, and it's too bad the author felt she had to resort to so much unprovable innuendo.

A total waste of time, and a sad, sad, story.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Review: Faith Bass Darling's Last Garage Sale

I haven't enjoyed reading a book this much in months.  It's almost a shame to have to write a review, but it certainly deserves to be shared and trumpeted.

On December 31, 1999 God tells Faith Bass Darling, the richest woman in Bass Texas, to sell everything she owns, including her 40 priceless Tiffany lamps, because this is her last day on earth.  Faith hasn't always paid much attention to the almighty, but since there's been a lot of hoopla and worry about the New Millenium coming tonite, she decides she'd better follow directions.  Faith's Alzheimer's has led her to become more and more recluse --she hasn't left her mansion in almost 20 years; more and more forgetful -- she has a mantra she repeats constantly to prove to herself that she still knows who she is, where she is and what day it is; and she's completely lost contact with her daughter, her only living relative.  So when she begins hauling out her priceless antiques from the family's century old collection and selling them for pennies, the word spreads faster than melted butter on hot corn.

The local sheriff (a football teammate of her deceased son) and the area's premier antique dealer (a childhood friend of her daughter's) both  try to convince Faith that this yard sale isn't really a good idea.  The family dynamics and memories that are stirred up when the daughter arrives make this much more than the farce it could have been.

Lynn Rutledge, in her debut novel, has given us a gift.  Readers are introduced to a gentle, complex lady clinging desperately to the threads of her memories, who has just enough rationality left to understand that her "stuff" doesn't matter-- it's not what makes her happy or unhappy, it can't bring back her son, and it obviously can't keep her from losing her memories, and ultimately her life.

The other characters are equally as well drawn, complex, and just plain likeable.  As a reader, you are immediately drawn to all of them; you cry with them, you laugh with them, and you find yourself wanting to help in anyway you can to make life better.   The story plays out in only one day, with a beautifully written ending that leaves the reader wanting more, knowing it won't happen, and ultimately being satisfied with how the New Year begins. This story is a delight.  Let's hope that Ms. Rutledge has more treats like this one in her future.

Author: Lynda Rutledge
Publisher-Format: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam  Hardcover, 304 pages 
Year of Publication: 2012
Subject: Old age, dementia, family relations
Setting: Bass Texas, December 31, 1999
Genre: Fiction
Source: ARC from publisher through Early Reviewers program

Monday, July 9, 2012

Monday Mailbox - July 9

This week's mailbox had two great ones.  I love mysteries and these are both from favorite authors.

The Body in the Boudoir by Katherine Hall Paige

The newest in one of my favorite series, I won this one in a contest on Bookin' With  BINGO.  Thanks Kaye.  She's always got giveaways going on over there.  Be sure to check them out.  In this one....
Massachusetts minister’s wife, caterer, and sometime amateur sleuth Faith Fairchild returns in The Body in the Boudoir, the twentieth installment in the Agatha Award-winning series by Katherine Hall Page that provides mystery, heart, wit, suspense, and mouthwatering recipes aplenty. Page turns back the clock this time to 1990, as a young Faith Sibley prepares to wed the love of her life, Thomas Fairchild…if she can survive a malefactor who’s trying to disrupt the ceremony by doing away with the bride. Fans of cozy culinary mysteries, like the bestselling Goldy Schultz novels of Diane Mott Davidson, will adore the tasty mayhem Katherine Hall Page cooks up in her Boudoir.
Then I got an audio book from LibraryThing.Com's Early Reviewer program:  Grandad, There's a Head on the Beach by Colin Cotterill.  I'm currently listening to the audio of the first one in this hilarious new series (the Jimm Juree mysteries) about an investigative reporter in Thailand.  Here's the blurb:
Who do you tell when you wake up to find a severed head on your resort-front beach in the morning? For frustrated ex-crime reporter Jimm Juree it means action. With her former cop grandfather as back up, she sets out to discover how the poor fellow ended up where he did - and why. On their journey, with the rest of their disjointed family in tow, they uncover gruesome tales of piracy and slavery, violence and murder in the Gulf of Thailand. Are the authorities uninterested because they're involved, or because the victims aren't Thai? Whatever the reason, Jimm and her team are going it alone and their lives are under threat. And who exactly are those two elegant women in cabin three and why has the engine number of their car been filed away? Airport hostages and hand grenades, monkeys and naked policemen - once more the sublime and the ridiculous clash at the Gulf Bay Lovely Resort and Restaurant.

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house recently. Created by Marcia at The Printed Page, Mailbox Monday, now has its own blog. Hosting duties are rotated every month. Jennifer at Mrs. Q:Book Addict is hosting July's postings. Be sure to drop by to see what everyone else got this week.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Review - Jack 1939 by Francine Mathews

In 1939, the US had no spy service, no CIA, and had to rely on the intuition of its leaders along with unofficial reports on the actions of world leaders and governments for the nation's security.  As Europe ground inexorably toward another war in 1939, President Roosevelt needed to get information quickly, quietly, and completely outside State department channels.  At the same time, Jack Kennedy, son of the US Ambassador to the Court of St. James (England) was planning to spend the summer and a semester touring Europe doing research for his senior thesis at Harvard.

Roosevelt asks Kennedy to act as his eyes and ears in Europe to find out what he can about Hitler's plans to take over Europe.  He gives the young man a secret Morse Code radio (and a quick training course in how to use it) and sends him off with instructions to tell no one (particularly not his father) about his mission.

This could so easily have been a disastrous hollywood pulp novel throw away, but Mathews instead gives us a rip-roaring page-turner. She mixes well-researched facts into a credible but fictional scenario that keeps the reader's attention from start to finish.  It's a quick read, not because it's shallow (it's NOT), but because the reader simply cannot put this down.  There is romance, espionage, personal glimpses of the Kennedy family, a quick tour of major cities of Europe,  a thorough explanation of Kennedy's now well-known health problems, and throughout it all, a clear sense of the urgency felt by the nations of the world who watched their paralyzed leadership as Hitler went unchallenged in his march toward world dominance. The author's suggestion about the dichotomy of  Kennedy's beliefs vs those of his father is central to the plot.  Kennedy's chase through European capitals, in pursuit of FDR's needed information is a thrilling read, as good as many mysteries on the shelves these days.

This one releases tomorrow. It's a perfect read to enforce your celebration of freedom this week.
Thanks to Riverhead Books for making the galley available.

Author: Francine Mathews 
Publisher-Format: New York, Riverhead Books, 2012, e-galley, 370 pages
Subject:  espionage, politics
Setting: London, eastern Europe summer 1939
Genre: historical fiction/suspense mystery
Source: e-galley from publisher via Net Galley

About the Author:
Francine Mathews, who also writes as Stephanie Barron, is the author of twenty novels of mystery, history, and suspense. A graduate of Princeton and Stanford, she spent four years as an intelligence analyst at the CIA, and presently lives and works in Colorado.